Mishna Avot 4

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Chapter 4.

1. Ben Zoma asked: Who is wise? One who learns from all people. He brought as a proof text Tehilim 119:99: “From all my teachers I was educated, but it was in Your Community that I meditated”. Who is strong? One who restrains the inclination. His proof text is from Mishlé [Proverbs] 16:32: “One who keeps the temper under control is stronger than the strongest; one who governs the spirit is greater than the conqueror of a city. Who has wealth? One happy with their allotted portion. In Tehilim 128:2 it says: “Your labour will flow from hand to mouth; prosperity and welfare will be yours.” Your wealth? In this world. Your welfare? In Olam Haba. Who is honoured? One who honours others. We see this in 1 Shmu’él [Samuel] (2:30), for it says: “I Honour they who honour Me; others voices arouse My Contempt”.

2. Ben Ahz’I? He taught: Know this! Run to do a “minor” mitzva (no less than a “major” one); desert avéra. Mitzvot tow each other and one avéra drags another avéra behind it. The reward of a mitzva is mitzvot. The reward of avéra is avér’ot.

3. He also taught this: Do not degrade another,and do not be generally opposed “on principle”; there is for you no one without a reason and neither thing nor word without a place in your life.

4. Rebbe Le’vitas, the leader of Yavneh, said this: It is very important to cultivate humility; humanity can at best expect worms. Rebbe Yohan’ahn Ben-Broqa illustrated the saying this way: Anyone who is profane in private will compensate in public. Mistaken? Intentional? It matters not when it comes to profane use of The Name.

5. Rebbe Yshma’él? He said this: The Torah teacher is given means to both study and teach. Superior – by far – is one who studies to enable action: The means to study, teach, enact, and practice is given to this one. Rebbe Tzadoq, however, warns: Do not act as if you wear a great crown upon your head! Furthermore, Torah is not a shovel with which to dig for treasure. Hillel said “Use the crown and be passed by”. Learn this! Torah benefits you; you do not benefit Torah. Extoll your virtues only on the basis of Torah observance and you forfeit a full life in this world.

6. Rebbe Yosé would say: One who honours Torah will be honoured in return. Disgrace follows one who disdains Torah.

7. His son was Rebbe Yishma’él, who taught this: Spare yourself from judging and you avoid hatred, theft, and needless oaths. Instruction cannot be based on heartfelt notions of common sense; such is foolish, wicked, and vulgar.

8. He also taught this: Do not judge alone. Only One may Judge Alone. You have a vote; they have a veto.

9. Rebbe Yona’ton? He says: Anyone who fulfills the Torah in poverty in the end will acquire wealth. The wealthy one who is contemptuous of Torah will be reduced to abject poverty.

10. Rebbe Mé’ir suggested this: Work as needed but your primary occupation should be Torah. Humility is essential in your personal relationships. You can always summon some excuse for lack of Torah observance but if you labour in Torah the reward you earn is, indeed, great!

11. Rebbe Eli’ezer Ben-Ya’aqov says: Do one mitzva and you acquire an advocate before the Heavenly Court. A single avéra? You acquire a prosecutor! Return and good deeds encircle you and allow you to face calamity when it transpires. Rebbe Yo’ha’non Ha’Sandler amplified on this: An assembly for the sake of Heaven will endure. If it is not for a Heavenly purpose? It will not endure.

12. Rebbe El’azar Ben-Shamu’a had this perspective: Honour your student as you honour yourself; think of your colleagues as teachers. And your teachers? Have the same awe of them as you do of Heaven!

13. Rebbe Yehuda would teach: Caution is essential in teaching. What you know is one thing, how you teach it is another! A mistake in your presentation can lead to mistaken impressions and willful transgressions. Rabban Shim’on commented on the matter. “The three crowns,” he said, “of Keter Torah, Keter Ke’huna, and Keter Mal’khut are overshadowed by Keter Shem-Tov.”

14. Rebbe Ne’hora’i taught: It is best to be in a place where the Torah is revealed. Do not think, “Torah? It knows where to find me!” It is your colleagues who will find you. What you think you know is like a sundial in sunny climes. What time is it when there are clouds?

15. Rebbe Yahn’I taught: We are not capable of understanding the apparent success of the wicked when compared to the torment of the righteous. Rebbe Mat’ya Ben-Har’ash criticised this perspective by teaching: The way forward is to greet everyone with all the dignity at your command and not by being too clever by half.

16. Rebbe Yaaqov was known to favour this saying: This world? It’s like a foyer to Olam Haba. You prepare yourself here and then enter the salon.

17. He also taught this: A single instance of t’shuva and random acts of pious kindness in this world is better than relying on a mythical Coming World! And better by far is a single instance of spiritual experience in the Coming World! That is the purpose of life in this world.

18. Rebbe Shimon Ben-El’azar said: Do not immediately try to make up with one you have upset; do not comfort a mourner the moment they learn of the death; do not question someone who insists on taking a vow; and do not try to see someone at the time of their defeat

19. Shmu’él Haqatan said this, quoting from Mishlé (24:17): When your enemy falls,do not be glad; when failure occurs, do not privately gloat. This is evil in G!d’s Eyes — and G!d Does see! You will be subject no less to G!d’s Wrath.

20. Elisha Ben-Avu’ya was known to teach this: A child learning Torah is like taking at a fresh parchment on writing on it. What if one starts learning Torah as an elder? This is like writing on parchment already covered. Rebbe Yosé Bar-Yehuda from far Bavli commented on this perspective when he said “One who learns Torah from the young is like one who eats grapes before they are ripe or drinks wine before it has fermented. One who learns it from an elder? This one eats ripe grapes and drinks wine of fine vintage.” Rebbe Mé’ir also commented. He said “It’s not the bottle but what it contains! An old bottle can contain unfit wine and a young bottle can contain a fine vintage.”

21. Rebbe El’azar Ha’qapar said: Constantly seeking to satiate our appetites and looking for respect is no way to find serenity.

22. He also taught this: We birth death but through death we acquire life and are willing to be Judged. Such people become aware: G!is Is G!d, not they: G!d is the Author, G!d is the Creator, G!d Discerns, G!d Judges, G!d Witnesses and, when necessary, G!d Complains. Before the Holy Blessed One there is no forgetting, no favours, no corruption; Your yetzer hara may promise that there is no escape except through dying. Don’t believe it. Your life was not an act of will on your part and yet death almost always occurs against your will! Know that you will account before G!d one way or another.